Taking Care of Me

I really like going to the gym. Even at my heaviest, I went to the gym five times a week, at a minimum. Sometimes I went every day. Sometimes I skipped a Sunday, especially when I had to clean bird cages.

When I first joined a gym I went after school, but I found that challenging. I’d come home tired and wanting alone time, but because I had a gym membership, I felt obligated to go. Once there, I’d relax. And I’d feel proud that I had changed clothes and made the effort.

A year into that membership I started getting up at 4:00 AM to be at the gym by 4:15 when it opened. I’d exercise for an hour, then come home and get ready for work. Again, I felt proud of myself. After all, this meant sacrifice, right? But I am a morning person, so it worked.

After my first knee replacement, it was hard getting back into that morning routine. In fact, it took months before I could do much of anything except ride a bike and use some of the weight machines. Mike would drive me to the gym, then come back in an hour to get me. It hurt, but exercise loosened up my knee and made it function properly.

After some investigation I discovered that the gym in the town where I worked opened at 6:00 AM. I could sleep in a little longer, eat breakfast, feed the birds, then leave. There I walked in the water. Back and forth, back and forth, getting in as many laps as I could. Then I would shower and dress for work, teach all day, feeling proud of myself.

I lost weight. And gained weight. Each time I had surgery or broke something or a knee fell apart, I’d gain weight. Then I’d return to the gym as soon as I could and lose weight, but never as much as I had gained. It felt like I was a hamster in a wheel, spinning around and around and going backwards.

I joined Weight Watchers. That helped. I loved the expectations because they were reasonable and doable. I lost weight. In fact, altogether about thirty pounds. I gave away my too-big clothes and gleefully bought new.

But then another surgery, weight gain, bigger clothes. I was caught in a cycle that seemed to have no end.

The one consistency in my life was exercise. Every day that I could, I was at the gym. I walked in the water until my knee was strong enough and then I swam. I’d go to my gym nights and weekends. I kept my weight under control and even lost a few pounds.

Last year I was told that I needed surgery but the surgeon would not operate until I’d lost a considerable amount of weight. That was my motivation.

Interestingly enough, my exercise routine has not changed. I swim up to five days a week. I work with weight machines at least two. I use the elliptical and stationary bike at least two.

Since I’ve been retired I go out walking with my husband every day, except when it’s raining.

And I love it all. I love swimming. I feel sleek and powerful in the water even though I am not the fastest swimmer. But once I start, I don’t stop until I’ve swum a half mile. At the end, I feel tired, but proud.

When I am using the machines, I get embarrassed because of my floppy arms, but I push and pull over and over, knowing that what I am doing will make me stronger. And I feel proud.

On the elliptical and bike I challenge myself to up the ante by increasing friction and moving longer. It’s tiring, but it feels awesome.

Every single time I exercise, I smile. I am doing it for me. All for me, and that’s what makes it so special and meaningful.

When I had small kids, I did things for them. When I was a stay-at-home mom, I did things for Mike as well. I cooked and cleaned and shopped because I loved taking care of my family. I loved being with them and watching them grow physically, emotionally and mentally.

I took care of many dogs and cats and eventually birds. I did it out of love. They loved me back, which felt great. Well, maybe the birds didn’t love me, but they “talked” to me when I spoke to them.

I still have responsibilities at home, but Mike has shouldered many of them since he retired. I no longer grocery shop or cook or wash dishes or run the vacuum or push dust around. We share responsibility for the cat, but the birds are mine.

What I do have is time for me, and while there are many ways that I divvy up that time, a good portion still goes to exercise. I eagerly put on the right clothes and head out. I look forward to going, knowing that after lunch, my usual time, is dedicated to taking care of me.

We all need to do that. To set aside portions of every day that belong to us. Time when we do what we want to do, not what we need to do or are expected to do.

If you haven’t done that yet, give it a try. It’s amazing how wonderful you’ll feel.

Scary Experience

On Monday of this week I had a real scare.

I had eaten lunch and gone to the gym. Then I went to a local store to buy some things I needed. After picking out a nice birthday card, I ran into a friend that I had not seen for many years.

We fell into our old friend patterns, talking, sharing, asking questions. It was wonderful to see her! It reminded me of all the talking did while we played on the same soccer teams, the visits to each other’s houses, and all the good times.

All of a sudden it felt like all the blood was flooding out of my head, pouring down my neck and out of my body. I half expected to see a pool of blood at my feet. Thankfully there wasn’t, but it didn’t alter the fact that I suddenly felt quite woozy.

Most stores do not have chairs placed about, and this was so. I knew I needed to sit. The only thing nearby was a display. As I headed toward that, my friend started calling for help.

A young man came to my assistance. He just happened to be a nursing student and he knew exactly what to do. While he was tending me, my friend called my husband and told him to get over to the store. Someone else called 911.

The store employees also came to my assistance. One got a wheelchair. A couple of others blocked me off from all the lookie-loos that were stopping by to stare.

Somewhere along the way I actually lost consciousness. It was supposedly only for a few seconds, but when I came to, the young man was cradling my head.

Meanwhile several people helped move me to a wheelchair and out of the aisle so that things were a little more private.

My friend told me that employees helped guide the paramedics to me. One stood outside in the cold, without a jacket, until they arrived. Another stood just inside the door and walked them to me. Both of these employees oversaw my care while my friend kept watch for my husband.

The decision was made to transport me to the hospital because my blood pressure was quite low. I heard the numbers, but they mean nothing to me.

In the ambulance the first thing they did was run an EKG, then my blood pressure was monitored and an IV was begun. The paramedics were awesome. The one riding with me kept me calm by explaining everything that he was doing and by asking questions to keep me focused.

By the time we reached the hospital my blood pressure had improved, but was still low. I was taken to the ER. Tests were run. The only thing they could find was that my kidney function was a bit low, a sign of dehydration. I was given fluids. Lots of fluids.

Because of fainting, the ER doctor insisted that I spend the night. It was long and boring. I was not moved to a regular room, but kept in an observation part of the ER. Of course this means all kinds of noise and disruption.

I think I got about four hours sleep, but none of it was in a block.

After running an electrocardiogram on Tuesday and finding nothing, I was released. Actually, the electrocardiogram was the most exciting part of the whole affair. It was pretty neat watching the beating of my heart, from the inside!

The bad news is that I cannot drive until I’ve been cleared by my doctor.

Tuesday afternoon my husband drove me to the store so I could get the items I had intended to buy. While there I asked to speak to a manager. I thanked her and the employees for their care and assistance.

As I was about to leave, two employees who had been there came up to me and asked how I was. This was quite touching.

Today I contacted the store’s website and explained what had happened and how much I appreciate all that the employees did to help me.

I hope this helps the employees. They deserve all kinds of recognition. I just wish I knew their names.

Expectations

Back in March I experienced the first of the most incredible pain I’ve felt, other than when I had my knees replaced. This pain was an intense squeezing of the chest. I thought for sure that I was having a heart attack and was soon to die. But I said nothing at the time.

In fact, I experienced several of these episodes over a period of months before I finally said something to my doctor about it. She immediately thought of spasms of the esophagus, something I’d never heard of.

I researched the condition, and lo and behold, those were my symptoms!

The spasms continued, sometimes with incredible intensity, sometimes to a lesser degree, but altogether painful.

My doctor ordered a barium X-ray which showed that there was a hole in my diaphragm. My stomach had moved upward, with a good one-third sticking through the hole.

I was referred to a surgeon who is going to fix everything, but his first requirement was that I lose a substantial amount of weight before he would fix a date.

Time has passed. I have lost 32 plus pounds. My surgery will be this coming Friday, March 2.

While the months passed, I didn’t concern myself with the details. It seemed so remote that there was no purpose served in thinking about it. My main concern was losing weight.

Now that I am down to days, it has become real. Last night I found myself thinking about it instead of sleeping. I assume that this will continue all week, until Thursday night when I won’t be able to sleep at all.

It’s odd that I am concerned. I trust the doctor. While the surgery details may seem complicated, he made it sound like a piece of cake. I am confident in his ability to perform the surgery with no complications.

But that does not mean that I don’t think about it.

I’ve taken care of the details. I’ve packed my personal items, including a book, for Mike to bring me after my surgery is complete. I’ve packed my clothes that I will wear home from the hospital. I’ve purchased the liquid diet drinks that I will consume for the 8-10 days after I come home.

I will clean my bird cages before the surgery even though it’s two days early. I will change the sheets so that I come home to a clean bed. I will make sure that all laundry is done, folded and put away.

I am as prepared as I possibly can be.

Please keep me in your prayers and thoughts.

 

The Best Day

Sometimes writing prompts speak to me, giving me ideas of what to write about, but recently I read one which really has me in a quandary.

Of all the days in my life, which one is the best?

I’ve been thinking about this for over a week and I have to admit that I am stuck.

Could it have been the day I received my acceptance letter to USC? That was an awesome day. After all, it meant that I was going to go to college and learn something that forever would change my life. The problem is that I don’t recall exactly how I felt. After all, I was only 17 at the time and so much has happened since then.

After college graduation a series of years went by in which I accomplished a lot of firsts: my first car, my first real job, my first apartment. These all moved me along the path toward independence and all of them made me smile, but were any of them the best? No.

There was the day that I met Mike at the IRS office. I was intrigued by his blue eyes, ready smile and kind demeanor, but it took quite a while for us to jell, to become a unit. The day he proposed was an awesome one. The problem is that I don’t recall the details. I do remember that he asked my dad for permission to marry me, but that’s it.

The wedding day was a spectacular one. Talk about life-changing! Wow! I went from being daughter to wife in less than an hour. And I was so scared that I almost passed out at the altar. I remember smiling through the reception and being so excited about the honeymoon that I could hardly wait for it to begin. On that day my life changed forever, so I would rank it up there among the best days of my life.

The thing is, though, that from then on I achieved so much, changed so much, and reveled in so much, that there are many defining moments in my life.

I remember when I found out I was pregnant with each of our kids. Now those were special days! Each time I glowed with happiness and pride. And when they were born, I could hardly contain myself even though I was terrified of holding such tiny, frail little beings.

Each time a child accomplished something, even something as tiny as lifting a head, I could hardly wait to show Mike. Jump forward to swimming on a team, playing soccer or baseball or softball or learning gymnastics or working with clay or learning to play an instrument and the “best” days suddenly multiply into hundreds.

There were graduations from eighth grade, high school and college. There were the births of my many grandkids, each unique in their own way.

The purchasing of homes, beginning with ours. I beamed with happiness on the day we took possession! Our house! Which became a home for our kids. And then the joy I felt when each of our kids bought their homes! Wow!

Getting my first teaching job filled me with joy. Granted it was a tiny, part time job teaching preschool at minimum wage, but I was in a classroom. My classroom. Fulfilling a dream I’d had since first grade.

When I jumped to third grade, my heart skipped a beat. This was it! My goal had been reached. But I didn’t stop there. I kept exploring and reaching and trying out new things and learning new things and going from job to job, each time looking for the place where I truly belonged and then I found it at the high school. I became a Special Education teacher working with learning disabled students. A hard job, but rewarding.

My supervisor noticed my hard work and I got promoted to the equivalent of Department Chair. Wow! Think of the jump, from part time preschool to Dept. Chair! I walked around campus with a smile on my face. I had reached my pinnacle, the highest I could possibly go, and I was proud. That was another good day.

Time passed. I aged. I got tired and all I could think about was retiring. When that time arrived four years ago, that was another personal best. I counted off the days until the one when I turned in my keys and walked away. I left knowing that I had done the best job that I could have. That at no time had I failed to fulfill my job requirements, and that, in fact, I usually exceeded them.

As a retiree I continue to have “best” days. Each day spent with my husband is a great one. Each time we go for a walk around the neighborhood, I rejoice that we are capable of doing so. That we enjoy the simple act of being together.

We have traveled quite a bit since retirement. Those are all good days as well. I especially love visiting with my grown children and my grandchildren. Each of those trips is unique and filled with joy. Each is the “best” because of the time I get to spend with family.

What it boils down to is that I cannot single out one day that stands above all others. I have been blessed with so many awesome days, so many unique experiences that I cannot definitively state that this one, this day, is the best.

Instead I revel in the fact that each morning that I open my eyes, each breath that I breathe, each step that I take, counts as my best.

 

Advice Column

Dear Martha:

I have a problem. I’m planning a dinner party for a bunch of good friends. I know what I want to serve, but when I invited my friends, one said she couldn’t eat gluten, another was vegan and a third couldn’t eat dark greens.

This pretty much rules out my plans.

What do I do? Cancel the party? I can’t afford to buy premade foods and I’m not much of a cook.

Any suggestions?

Frustrated

 

Dear Frustrated:

With today’s awareness of what foods work for us and which ones don’t, when you invite company, you either only invite those who can eat what you’re planning on serving, or turn it into a pot luck.

The advantage of pot luck is that everyone can eat at least one dish, so no one goes home hungry.

The other option is to not host a dinner, but rather snacks and appetizers. Include entertainment and set up enough games that everyone can play.

Not every gathering has to be about food.

I hope it goes well for you.

Martha

A Never-ending Battle

There are days when I feel like giving up.

Why do I have to sit and watch friends devour delicious looking food while I nurture my cup of low calorie soup and a bland garden salad? I so badly wanted the Thai curry that I read and reread the description so many times that I could taste the savory sauce, but, no, when you’re fat you don’t get to eat things like that. At least not in public.

Why do I feel guilty when I buy a bag of candy to bring home to share with my husband? When the clerk scans the bag, I feel like she stares at me wondering why a fatso would buy candy in the first place. I want to rip open the bag and unwrap a piece, stick it in my mouth and chew, all the while daring her to say something because people like me aren’t supposed to eat candy. At least not in public.

Why are public toilet stalls so narrow and the seats so low? Do the architects only envision skinny people using them? To be comfortable, truly comfortable, I like to use the handicapped stall, and I would, except for the evil-eye looks that you get when you emerge. And then I feel guilty because “normal” people fit in “normal” stalls, so there is obviously something wrong with me.

There is an assumption that all fat people eat themselves to death. That fat individuals sit in front of the television stuffing their mouths with bonbons while they feast on soap operas. That fat people don’t even bother with paper plates but eat right out of the bag, devouring everything inside. That fat people choose to be fat and refuse to do anything to change their status.

If only the scoffers knew the hours I put in at the gym. All the laps I’ve swum and the miles I’ve done on the elliptical and bike. All the weights I’ve lifted and the trainers I’ve hired and the steps I’ve climbed, all in an attempt to control my body.

If only they sat with me day in and day out and saw what I put in my mouth. All the fruits and veggies. The limited amounts of carbs and “bad” sugars. If they looked at my plate and saw all the white space in between each item and realized that I only take one helping and often don’t finish that.

Let’s talk about clothes. Designers don’t cater to fat people. Beautiful fabrics and styles are only for the emaciated. Fat people get frumpy looking old-lady sacks in cotton that pull and bunch in all the wrong places. Don’t they realize that fat people want to look nice? That they want to wear clothes that feel good, that hang just right and sport fabulous colors? The selection is so limited and the styles repetitions of what fat people have been wearing for generations.

Dressing rooms are not designed to make fat people look half-way decent. Often they are so poorly designed that fat people have to turn sideways in order to open and close the door. Often there is no chair or bench so that you have to stand to undress. Almost always there are mirrors on three sides so that a fat person can see their naked body from all angles, in glorious detail, a reminder that they don’t belong in a dressing room pretending that they’re going to find something that fits.

Cars and airplanes and theaters and restaurants are designed to let fat people know that they aren’t welcome there. Try squeezing a fat body between arm rests and sitting there for hours. Imagine holding your arms across your body for the entire voyage so as not to encroach on your neighbor’s space. Imagine what it feels like when you enter and see the expressions on people’s faces, hoping, praying that you aren’t going to sit next to them.

Even doorways and hallways conspire against fat people. Some doorways are so tight that a fat person feels like turning sideways in order to squeeze through. The same is true for walking down aisles, as in an airplane. Imagine what it feels like to look down the aisle and see arms and legs and bags sticking into the narrow space and wondering how you’re going to get through the obstacle course without annoying too many people!

Sometimes homeowners place furniture along walls that have to be passed through in order to get to the bathroom. Or furniture is arranged in such a way as to create a maze which requires turning this way and that in order to get through. Imagine how it feels to know that people will be watching, with mouths hanging open, waiting to see if the fat person will successfully navigate the path.

More than anything I hate the repeated failure.

I’ve know I was fat since I was three and saw a picture of myself standing next to my ninety pound mother. I was so puffed up that I had folds of fat at my wrists, ankles and elbows. My tummy stuck out like a barrel. I didn’t know the word fat then, but I learned it in Kindergarten when my classmates teased me and called me fatty. When the neighbor kids invited me to play games in which, no matter what they called it, the rules required that I stick my butt high in the air in order for them to laugh about the size of it.

From 1st through 7th grades I attended Catholic schools that required uniforms. Because we were poor, I never had a brand new one, but instead wore the hand-me-downs from give-away day. There was never any choice for someone my size. My mom would walk to the end of the table, sort through the three or four in my size, and pick out two that weren’t too badly stained or faded. Now hear the teasing about being too big for new clothes, about being so fat that nothing fits and picture tears running down my face.

About this time a new cigarette came on the market, Tareyton. My brother loved the name. He turned it into Terry weighs a ton and would follow it with pretending that his finger was a needle that could puncture my thigh, followed by a whistle that indicated excess air spewing forth.

In fifth grade, sitting next to a classmate at church, I heard laughing. I looked toward the sound, only to discover that every girl sharing the pew with me had tucked their skirts under their thighs which were thinner than just one of my leg. From then on I hated church.

I attended two different high schools and was the fattest kid in each. This was when I learned the torture of PE. Imagine undressing in front of dozens of thin girls, day after day. Imagine lining up, buck naked, to go into the shower, where the only salvation came at the end when a teacher handed you a postage-stamp sized towel. Hear the snickers. Hear the derision.

It made no difference that I was one of the best athletes. Give me a sport, any sport, and I could play better than most of my peers. Did I earn respect? No.

Make me run laps around a field and I come in dead last, every time. My sophomore year I decided to train on my own. Weekends and nights I’d run the track, around and around, stopping when it hurt too much to continue. Did I lose weight? No. Get any faster? No.

Over the years I have dieted. I have lost weight. Lost more weight. Lost even more, but then would get stuck, still at fat. Then I’d put on weight. Lose some. Gain back even more. Lose a bit. Gain back lots more. Up and down, over and over, until now, at my age, I’m stuck in a cycle of miniscule changes.

I’d like to be thinner. I’ve never wanted to be skinny like a model, but thinner, yes. I’d like to go to a meeting and not be the fattest person in the room. To sit with my church choir and not be the fattest person there. When I’m a reader at church, to believe that the congregation is listening to the words I’m proclaiming and not looking at the size of my butt as I climb the steps up to the ambo.

I’d like to go into a department store, a regular store that sells stylish clothes to beautiful people, and know that I can find a variety of things to buy. I’d like to have racks and racks of clothes to pick through. I’d love to be able to go shopping with a friend and know that I can shop in the same part of the store where she can shop.

But at my age I find that I’m giving up.  I’m tired of the fight. I lack the energy to keep pretending that someday my body will look like other people’s. I’m tired of weighing in every Saturday only to discover that sometimes I’ve lost a fraction of a pound or that I’ve gained three pounds in two days. I’m tired of walking through life with my eyes locked on a distant target, imaging that if I can’t see people looking at me, then it isn’t happening.

I also know that I cannot succumb to my frustrations. That I will not give up, because if I do, then I am admitting to myself that I am a failure. Have been for over 66 years. And as my birthday approaches this week, I understand that my health is being compromised in ways that I have yet to discover.

I don’t want to die young. I don’t want my body to give up on my and cut my life short. I have too much to live for. A husband who loves me. Wonderful children and their significant others of whom I’m proud. Grandchildren that I love spending time with and whom I want to remember me as a kind, loving person, not as a fat lady. (Unfortunately they have been old enough for some time now to ask why I’m so fat!)

I am angry at myself for failing at losing weight. I am angry at the world for having no room for people like me. I am angry at the many industries that cater only to skinny people when the vast majority of people are no longer skinny.

I don’t want to give up, but I am tired of the fight.

My Never-ending Battle

I’d like to be able to tell you

That I’ve won the battle with my body.

That I’m down to a respectable weight

And that nothing will distract me

From that goal.

But weight loss is a continuous battle.

It is never won.

It defies logic.

People look at a fat person

And think that something’s mentally wrong.

Why else look like that?

Why not just stop stuffing food into your mouth?

But it’s not that easy.

There was never a time in my life when I was thin.

Even going back into my toddler years,

I was a fat child.

In elementary school I was the source

Of many laughs.

The interesting thing is that I’ve never

Been a big eater.

You would never have caught me with

My plate mounded high and

Shoveling food down faster than a dog.

But here I am, years later and still fighting

The same old battle.

I don’t like the way I look.

I’m embarrassed when I put on my

Swim suit and walk out on the deck.

When I picture my floppy arms

Coming out of the water.

I’m humiliated when I sit next to skinny people

And see that one of my thighs equals two of theirs.

And I’m tired of the fight.

It exhausts me, the simple act of eating.

Or not eating.

Filling myself with fluid so that my stomach

Will be full and I won’t take that extra bite.

And so I would love to tell you

That I’ve won the battle so that you would smile

And nod

And be proud of my accomplishment.

But I can’t.